1978 Chevy Corvette - Engine Of Desire

Repowering a '78 Indy Pace Car with a Ram Jet 350

Steve Temple Jan 11, 2012 0 Comment(s)
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The story of the '78 Indy Pace Car is a surprising one, with some twists and turns. Initially, this model was intended to celebrate the Corvette's Silver Anniversary, with a limited run of 100 two-tone, logo'd cars planned for each of the 25 years of production. Upon finding unexpected extra demand, GM eventually built one for each of the 6,200 Corvette dealerships instead. That tallied up to about 15 percent of the 1978 build total--much more than a "limited production run"--and was not to be confused with another '78 limited-edition Vette model that wore a 25th Anniversary paint scheme.

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Given the car's initial popularity, some unscrupulous buyers tried to pass off standard '78 models as factory Pace Cars. All it took was a black or silver car with the right options, along with a paint gun to apply the contrasting color for the two-tone treatment. That, plus a red pinstripe dividing the two colors, a couple of spoilers, special silver cabin trim, and thin-shell seats with extra lumbar support.

That's the story of the Pace Car in a nutshell. What hasn't been covered in detail, though, is how the car's drivetrain can be upgraded. That's the untold story we came across in Scott and Linda Walker's Pace Car.

Not one to rashly tamper with history, and being an ethical type employed in law enforcement, Scott is duly respectful toward the history of the '78 Pace Car. So in 1993, when the Walkers tracked down one just five miles from their home with only 3,000 miles on the odometer, they went to some lengths to restore it to near-new condition.

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The interior was in excellent condition, as was the body. Scott noted, however, that the engine was so dirty, it appeared that no human had performed any cleaning on it since it rolled off the St. Louis assembly line on April 28, 1978.

The asking price was $16,500, but after some negotiating the Walkers were able to acquire it for $12,000. Considering the original sticker price of the car was $14,385, they felt they got a great deal.

Later in the year, Scott detailed the motor and brought it back to a near-new appearance. He also joined the NCRS and worked hard to keep the Vette original as possible, through some diligent investigative work, in keeping with his professional training.

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"Whenever I found a low-mileage Pace Car, I would take pictures to document what color a part should be, or what sticker went where," he relates. Later on, he had a friend, Todd Harshman of O'Fallon, Missouri, repair all the stress cracks commonly found on the C3 Corvettes, then repaint the refurbished body.

"I believe it has a paintjob GM would have been proud of," Walker boasts of the finished product. "People are shocked when I tell them the car was painted in a garage. The Vette now looks great--but still original--and it's received numerous First Place trophies over the years."

With the car's cosmetics now in top-notch form, Walker soon came to an obvious conclusion regarding the car's period-correct drivetrain.

"While I loved the Vette, it was always lacking in horsepower," he admits. In 1978, the L82 engine was rated at 220 hp and recorded quarter-mile times in the high 15s at around 88 mph. That's hardly impressive compared with today's Corvettes, but in 1978 it could soundly thrash a Pinto.

Another reality check came when Walker thought of his Chevy S-10 pickup truck. Its 4.3 Vortec V-6 is rated at 240 horses, 20 more ponies than his beloved V-8 Corvette. He began to feel like he was carrying a Derringer to break up a gang fight. Seeking to increase the caliber of his street weapon, Walker began exploring ways to improve on its output with various power adders. Unfortunately, a blower or turbo would most likely require modifying the hood, something he wanted to avoid given the car's historically correct aesthetics.

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